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The Myth of Sicily

It seems a week doesn’t go by that I don’t receive another bottle of wine from Sicily that is worthy of serious consideration.  Wine regions of Italy’s north – Piedmont, Verona, Alto Adige, Collio – have long had sterling reputations, but winegrowing areas south of Tuscany have had to fight to get critical attention.  Several have made periodic attempts to catch the wine world’s attention, but often they have come across like precocious children, waving their arms to “look at me” before walking ker-thud into a tree.

But not our Sicily.  There was a time, of course, that the cognoscenti among us, moi included, assumed that the region was too hot and too rustic to make anything that would set my bicchieri ringing. Now we know differently.

Not only does Sicily make sophisticated wines, it also is sophisticated in the way that it markets them.  That little black dress that we saw village women wearing in The Godfather can now barely hide all the curves.

And so I was expecting to taste some very good wines when I set down to lunch recently with Tenuta Rapitalà’s Laurent Bernard de la Gatinais at A Voce’s midtown location in New York.  “After World War II, the grapes were used mainly to make bulk wines,” Laurent explains, but then his parents, who married in 1968, restored the winery and the vineyard after they were damaged by a major earthquake the same year.  His mother’s family had owned the estate, but his father was French and is credited today with having been the first to introduce French varieties into Sicily.  The restored property yielded its first vintage in 1976.

Laurent has continued his parents’ tradition while increasing Rapitalà’s international presence.  The wines we taste – six in all of a total 11 which Frederick Wildman imports – are all very well made and all quite enjoyable and reflect Laurent’s and Rapitalà’s mixture of French and Sicilian varieties.  Either as varietals or as blends, we taste whites of Catarratto and Grillo grapes and reds of Nero d’Avola, Pinot Nero, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah.

“In all, we make 15-16 wines that are estate grown,” Laurent says, “and about 26 in total.”  The estate vineyard, a very large 555-acre slope, yields about one million of the three million bottles that Rapitalà annually produces.

A part of the Gruppo Italiano Vini, Rapitalà has not yet received the starred status in the Gambero Rosso achieved by a half dozen or so other Sicilian wineries, but it nevertheless produces very enjoyable wines at quite affordable prices.

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